“The big fisherman has appeared again,” opens the Bertolt Brecht poem “The Stone Fisherman.”
He fishes for herring, but pulls up nothing but stones. The townsfolk laugh, but he doesn’t. In fact, he raises each stone up so that “the unlucky ones,” as Brecht calls the derisive onlookers, can see. Brecht’s koan-like poem is the inspiration for four original short plays — moody, elusive, hypnotic — that circle ideas of expectation and “success.” They were written as part of a two-month group-led writing process of the young company Open Waters Theatre Arts.
After debuting at the Neal Street Garage with Jennie Hahn’s evocative Living History, Open Waters has brought its lyrical, experimental ethos to the ultra-po-mo gallery Zero Station. The sheer whiteness of the space is wont for projection and shifting interpretations, and likewise are Open Waters’ riffs on the verse beautifully mutable.
In Hahn’s Puritan Ethic, a dreamy young girl (Anna Korsen) is peppered with mother Virginia Collins’s questions: has she salted the pork, waved to the neighbors, scrubbed the sink? What she is doing is unpragmatically reading poems and contemplating the stones in her apron. Her resistance to mother’s narrowness builds by contrasts — mom’s busy motion to her stillness, the sounds of dishes to those of stones — and finally cycles into a cautionary theatrical lyric.
Next, in his The House That Falls, elastic presence Christopher Reiling yells, creeps, whispers, and careens his way up the center aisle as a homeless man with a shopping cart trove of stones, shoes, and candles. Stones are laid, a dream house is conjured (“This is where we sleep; this is where the music plays”). Of course, he must return it all to the cart, and will exit as he came in. Yet there’s a resonant consolation — “We are getting our work as good as we can here” — and his manic smile knows something unlikely but good.
Virginia Collins’s well-toned The Unlucky Ones is almost literally dead-pan comic. All-white workers at the golf-ball factory Reiling and Derek Converse are in twin paper suits and mouthless masks. Reiling is disaffected, and in hilariously flat tones, they debate their friends’ varieties of ambition. (Jake, with his huge client list, is “totally into success.”)
Finally, Here and Now is Tessy Seward’s exploration of a couple’s reaction to their developmentally damaged child and to society’s perception of her. The girl (Kerry Sullivan) won’t talk, interact, or make eye contact — just knocks on the floor with stones. Parents Hahn and Reiling cower from the conventional pronouncements (“weird,” “unreachable,” “tragic,”) before finally kneeling down to see the stones as their daughter might.
The Stone Fisherman | Produced by Open Waters Theatre Arts | at Zero Station, 222 Anderson St, Portland | through May 11 | 207.799.5945
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Megan Grumbling: firstname.lastname@example.org